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I want to mention briefly other aspects of this part of the Bill. Clauses 22 to 28 set out the arrangements for the selection of members of the supreme court. Clauses 45 to 50 also make provision for the governance of the court to be as independent as possibleI answered that point earlier in response to a question from the hon. Ladyso that it is compatible with its position as a body in receipt of public funds. As a logical consequence of the separation between the judiciary and the legislature, clause 109 restricts the rights of Members of the House of Lords to sit and vote, for as long as they hold full-time judicial office.
I know that it is boring for the Minister to have to explain himself, but that is what he is here to do. I want to ask about clause 65, entitled "Exercise of
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powers to reject or require reconsideration". The judicial appointments commission will be able to put up a name to the Minister and he will be able to reject it. However, clause 65(2) says:
Those are rather interesting expressions. What sort of evidence is the Minister is likely to have that the commission will not have had or considered? What is it about the merits of the candidate that may not attract the Minister but may have attracted the commission?
Mr. Leslie: I happen to think that the drafting of clause 65(2) is pretty good, in that it does not go unnecessarily into the definition of that evidence, and keeps it fairly broad, but is challengeable also. For example, evidence could be that knowledge of a criminal conviction has emerged that was not available to the judicial appointments commission. That is the sort of issue, but we will go through some of the particulars in Committee.
Part 4 creates a judicial appointments commission and a judicial appointments and conduct ombudsman for England and Wales. Selection must be solely on merit, but this part of the Bill also sets out the process to be followed in appointing judicial office holders and in providing for complaints to be made to the ombudsman. It also makes provision for a new disciplinary process in relation to the judiciary. The Government believe that creating a judicial appointments commission for England and Wales will itself send a powerful message that judicial appointments are to be open, transparent, accessible, and removed from the control of a single Minister. It will also help to promote equality and diversity among those appointed to our judiciary.
Although the quality of our judges is not in doubt, the means by which they are appointed is out of step with public expectations regarding the way in which government should work. Our current arrangements have produced a judiciary that, although excellent in many ways, is startlingly homogenous. There are hardly any solicitors, few women lawyers and only one ethnic minority lawyer in senior judicial posts. I cannot believe that that is representative of the pool of legal ability or talent available for appointment. I am confident that the new judicial appointments commission will provide an appointments system based on merit alone. Crucially, however, as I said earlier, a broader appointments process will help to recognise merit from the wider pool of talent available, thus drawing on the full diverse range of those qualified for judicial appointment, regardless of their gender, or social or ethnic background.
As I indicated earlier, although this part of the Bill will require close scrutiny, we support the broad thrust of it. Given that it is one of the main pillars
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of an important constitutional Bill, will the Minister explain why virtually none of it will be debated on the Floor of the House?
Mr. Leslie: The aspects of the Bill to be considered in Committee on the Floor of the House and Upstairs in a Committee Room will ultimately be voted on by the House. The House will make its judgment, but I believe that we are following convention.
Mr. Shepherd: The Minister says that merit is the primary consideration, so I am puzzled why there is conflict between that concept and the range of other matters that the Minister particularised, such as diversity. Such conflict does not seem to exist. If the measure is about merit, why is he introducing a wider system because surely that undermines that concept?
Mr. Leslie: I think that I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I hope to persuade him that he is wrong. If one makes a choice from a narrow shortlist, one can make an appointment on merit. However, if the pool of those encouraged to apply were broader and a wider range of applications were encouragedI think that the judicial appointments commission could help to devise new ways of achieving thatappointments on merit could still be made, while helping to expand the diversity of, and equality of opportunity for, those who put themselves forward for appointment. I do not think that the two concepts are inconsistent. At the heart of the reforms is our drive to build further on people's confidence in key institutions such as the judiciary.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Of course, it will not be possible for the House to debate the programme motion to which the Minister referred, because of the changes that have been made to our rules. Have you received a request from the Leader of the House to come here to explain why, with his programme motion, he is breaking a constitutional convention that has been in place since 1945 and has applied to every constitutional measure of first-class importance under this Government? This is the first time that the Government have tried to break that important precedent, and they will not even explain themselves.
Sir Patrick Cormack:
You have made it clear, Mr. Speaker, that this is a matter for the Minister, so why have the Government broken the convention? It is slightly disingenuous for the amiable Minister to suggest that the House will decide, because the Government
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have tabled a motionwhich means that they have effectively made their decision. What is the defence for such an extraordinary unconstitutional move?
We are fortunate that our judiciary has an exceptional reputation for intellectual ability, integrity and independence. Judges play a key role in the justice system and it is vital that the public should have confidence in them. To achieve that, we need to ensure that there is complete confidence in the way in which the judiciary are selected and appointed. Of course we need a system that selects the best people on merit, but it must do that in a modern and efficient way.
Mr. Hogg: May I take the hon. Gentleman back to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack)? The hon. Gentleman could at least explain why the Government's proposal is inconsistent with past precedent.
Mr. Leslie: I do not accept that our proposal conflicts with past precedent. There will be ample debate on the Bill in the Committee of the whole House and in Standing Committee. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not like the programme motion, he is perfectly free to vote against it.
Mr. Shepherd: The Minister made a serious assertion in his last comment to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). It is unusual for a Minister and a Government to put a guillotine motion on the Order Paper, no less. On a constitutional Bill, there is no opportunity for the House to express any opinion in advance of the vote, which will be whipped, as to the reasonableness of the timetable according to which the Bill is being forced through.
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